b.kinda’s e-Commerce Manager Victoria Lammie grew up in a family that worked in the fashion industry. As an eight year old she modelled sleepwear for Marks & Spencer and as an adult, she designed it! She always knew what she wanted to do – and now she’s bringing her years of global experience to the UK’s first pre-loved mystery-clothes box company.
We find out why Victoria sees her role as giving back to the industry she loves – and why b.kinda is the next big thing in sustainable fashion.
In 1993 I graduated from the De Montfort University with a BA Honours degree in fashion and textiles and in my final year started applying for jobs. My final collection was based on the 1940s and it was all tailored suits and so tailoring was what I really wanted to design.
But at that time we were in a recession when people tend to prefer not to spend money on expensive clothing items, but instead treat themselves to underwear; a nice pair of pants or a pretty bra. So my first job was a lingerie designer back home in Yorkshire which I secured before I graduated. It was working for a small manufacturing business that had around 100 machinists manufacturing the products that went onto the shop floor, which is absolutely unheard of now!
Through that business I was working with Debenhams and Littlewoods who sold lots of lingerie and sleepwear. The head office was in Liverpool at the Albert Docks so that was an absolute joy, to go and have meetings with the buyer there and as my first job, it was quite an exciting trip, to go and do that with my boss.
After working there for a year as a junior designer, I wanted to spread my wings and apply for other things. I then got a job working for an M&S supplier on a collection that M&S did and still do, which is mix and match lingerie. I was based on the outskirts of Nottingham with a big team of designers, around 25 of us all young, and in our 20s; absolutely obsessed with what we did, just loving working as designers!
The Mix and Match sets were varied prints and shapes of knickers and because I loved embellishment and print, that’s the collection I was assigned to work on; sourcing the trims, designing the prints and designing the garment shapes. And it was a really fun collection to work on because it was a young product range. I used to travel a lot, so mostly to Europe, so Milan and Paris very frequently and learned a lot of skills about the buying team in M&S and the merchandisers and all that side of the retail chain which I hadn’t experienced in my previous role.
After two years I decided I really wanted to be in London, so started applying for jobs and I got a job with Courtaulds Textiles, which again was another M&S supplier. This time I was still working on the mix and match lingerie an also sleepwear, but I wasn’t a junior designer anymore. I had a small team then working with me, sample machinists and pattern cutters. Courtaulds did outer wear as well as lingerie. I spent time developing the Relax at Home range, which was a brand new concept for M&S. So I worked on the first set of Relax at Home range, that was my collection; a grey jersey marl, loose pants, tunic tops, gorgeous dressing gowns. I’d been to New York and got lots of ideas and inspiration, the Americans were very into wearing lounge wear but it was quite a new concept over here. I always remember going into Marble Arch and seeing all the hoardings with all the photographs of the things I’d designed, which was just amazing, because at the time that was their flagship store.
Courtaulds were great and they gave me lots of opportunities and I really enjoyed my time there. But what I actually wanted to do was to work for a real old school rag trade business. And the one I went to work for were actually a company from South Yorkshire that I’d grown up with, that my family had worked in. They were very fashion driven and gave me much more opportunity to be creative than where I was working. I started as a sleepwear designer and within a short time I’d been promoted and I was heading up the sleepwear team, which was just a dream. I loved it. We did a wide range from casual, licensed character to glamour sleepwear which was lacey sometimes mixed with satin, really ornate, embellished stuff. I travelled extensively, Milan, Rome, Paris, New York, India sourcing fabrics, developing trims and embroidery and gaining inspirations and ideas for designing the collections back in London. – it was a very exciting time and I can honestly say I loved every minute!
After a fair few years working in London my husband and I decided we wanted to move to live by the sea in Devon. For a while I commuted to London, and then I worked for a while with a surf brand in Newquay. But I soon realised that there wasn’t much scope for a job in fashion in the South West. So I decided I was going to do my own thing. I’d got lots of fabrics and always loved accessories. That was my thing. Shoes and accessories, it still is now.
So I started making, and I’m not a maker at all. I mean, when I did my degree, I had to make the garments and I can sew but I wouldn’t choose to. Designing is my strength. I had a little workroom and I started making handbags and I’d probably been making them only for a couple of weeks and did a local market with a dozen of them and was approached by so many local businesses to sell through them that I ended up having to employ the skills of some local ladies to sew (outworkers).
My husband and I would spend our evenings cutting out packages of fabric, despite him having a full time day job as an architect. I would drop them to the ladies and they’d help me put them all together. It was really good, but looking back, we only had one child then and so much more time.
A sponsorship from Devon Arts Council to do a trade show called Pulse at Earl’s Court really changed things for me. I went in the new designer section and it really took off. Suddenly I’d got all these orders and I thought – where am I going to make these products! I had to start looking for manufacturers and because I’d worked in the industry, I did have quite a lot of contacts and I found a UK manufacturer, that let me do small quantities and it just grew and grew.
I started off with really simple handbags but then I ended up doing all sorts of lifestyle products based on really what was kind of in fashion then; sleep masks to beach bags to aprons and shower caps. The business just continued to grow. I then had agents working for me and I did many more shows, but then I had a baby, I had to rein it back again.
And once I got into Fenwicks things got even busier and built some some really good relationships with the buyers. But I very much worked around my children. I also kept being approached by Not on The High Street, it was when they were first launching. And in their first year, Holly and Sophie used to take it in turns to call me on alternate weeks. Holly would ring me then Sophie would ring me and just badger me to go on their site. And I just didn’t feel confident enough to do that because I knew as soon as we went online, the volumes would really go up. And yes – once I did join Not On The High Street, it became a great success for me.
Online became really big then, so I then had my own e-commerce website as well as Not on The High Street and others as well. We’d also do all the shows. Looking back, it was really, really good. It was before things started to get difficult in terms of small businesses and before Brexit happened.
Then a few years ago I decided I was going to go back into apparel because I’d really missed it. So I started designing my own eco-friendly clothing. My business was, all the fabrics that I used were sustainable. Everything was always manufactured in the UK and a lot of the fabrics were recycled. Some of them were old textiles. I’d spent a lot of time browsing. I used to go to London a lot, to Portobello Market and buy old fabrics. I’d go to antique fairs and charity shops, buying pieces.
So everything I used was all very thoughtful. So I decided that actually I was going to do something clothing wise that was the same. So I found a supplier and a printer and designed a range of hoodies and it was really around when Black Lives Matter came about. So I started doing slogans and I did ‘Hope’ to start with, and they sold well. It was before Covid. And as soon as we went into Covid, it was nigh on impossible to get the products. Online I did really well but I couldn’t source the fabrics, the old textiles because nothing was open, so I couldn’t go to the second-hand markets. And so I was having to buy new things, but new old stuff. So although I had a fantastic year, my overheads were massive compared to where they’d been.
So I decided last year to close my business and I was either going to go back into education or I wanted to work in vintage fashion. My children were of an age to enable me to do this. So I actually wrote two ideal jobs that I’d like to do for myself before I closed the business and one of them magically appeared. The job advert really was so similar to the job description I’d written down of what I wanted to do, because I wanted to work in vintage fashion. And I thought actually, if I worked for a charity, I could really go in and give them the fashion angle of retail and pre-loved clothing. So I actually started writing to a few and really selling myself as, I’ve been a designer, I’ve been in the industry all these years, I want to give something back.
I love vintage clothing and saw the ad for b.kinda and the rest they say is history. I have to say I’m absolutely loving being back in ladieswear, it’s wonderful to be a part of something that is really making a difference. The fact that all our profits go to the hospice, that’s huge. That is just incredible. We are part of the circular economy, stopping clothing from going into landfill. And for me I’m doing something I love, but with a real purpose.
So what is it that you love so much about fashion, do you think? What are the ingredients behind it that make you love it?
I think initially for me it was growing up in a family that have worked in the fashion industry. So my grandma, way back when, she worked at the shirt factory, which was very close to where my parents live. She also worked at the handbag factory too.
As a child, I grew up doing the fashion shows. In fact, the irony of all of it is that I ended up being a sleepwear designer and for two years I was the sleepwear model for an M&S manufacturer when I was eight.
I grew up surrounded by it and went into the manufacturers, saw the designers designing when I was very, very young and was absolutely in awe of them and just thought, “Wow that’s really, really what I want to do.”
I like the thought of people going out and buying something that they love to wear that I’ve designed. But I think now more so than ever with the pre-loved clothes at b.kinda, a lot of people are struggling financially and a lot of people do want to not buy fast fashion, so I think it’s a really exciting time, because people can afford to wear those great pieces if they go into a charity shop or if they buy a b.kinda box, they can have some great things that maybe they wouldn’t have had before. I’m a great believer that if you’re dressed well, you feel good about yourself in any walk of life, whether it’s at work or whether you’re just going out for the day, it just makes you feel better about you.
What do you enjoy about seeing the boxes come together for people at b.kinda?
I’ve spent a lot of time with my team, teaching them about different age groups and what people are wearing and what’s current for that season. When I’m thinking about the box, and obviously I don’t pack the boxes, the fashion pickers do, but I want the customer to open their box and be absolutely delighted with what’s in there. So for me, that’s in my head when I’m with the b.kinda team who are packing a box. I really want our customer to be like, “Oh wow.”
Pre-loved and the idea of the mystery part of the b.kinda box can sometimes put people off. How would you reassure them about it?
Well, I would reassure them, to actually give us a go. And the good thing is, it’s only £15 and that money is going to charity. So worst case, if you got the box and you didn’t like it, you can think, well actually what I’ve done is I’ve donated £15 to charity.
But I would say to people, just give it a go with what’s in the box and step out of your comfort zone and try those pieces that we’ve selected for you. Because actually you might be delighted when you put them on and they might be from brands that you would never dream of buying new.
When customers are ordering, they can also leave us a little comment – things like ‘I can’t wear wool’ or ‘anything for a party would be great’….that’s reassuring for them as well.
I think it’s very much as well about the customers not expecting an outfit. That’s the thing. And I think that’s the fun of it, not having an outfit in the box, having pieces that actually you’ve got to ‘shop your wardrobe’ to pull it all together into an outfit. That’s what we want people to do. Everybody should be ‘shopping their wardrobe’; hang the pieces up next to what you’ve got and see what you can make from it.